On being a first generation college student

dozens dozens dozensWhen you come from an underrepresented group many assumptions are made about you. You are expected to face adversity and you are so brave for doing it, so everyone is overly congratulatory. You are generally treated as other and, despite popular belief, there is no such thing as “positive *racism” (*in addition to being first gen, I’m also latina).

The funny thing is, in my situation at least, I’ve had more privilege than many of my white non-first gen counterparts. There’s this misconception that first generation students are ill-equipped for college and that’s not always the case. Conversely, having parents that went to college doesn’t mean you’re ready to hang in the big leagues. I came from a high school that is currently ranked #1 in the state. From a place where a 34 ACT score was the norm, where your classmates were applying to harvard and yale, where the “A” was king and everything else was just a slap in your sleep deprived face. Academically, I was anything but unprepared. That, combined with my world city privilege (immersion in diversity, prestigious internships, many incredible orgs to volunteers with, and a plethora of enriching experiences) summed up to layers upon layers of privilege that most people overlook because of my underrepresented status (i.e first generation minority woman).

Now, being a first generation student did create struggles for me during the application process. My dad was very skeptical about college, he didn’t understand much about it and didn’t really care to learn either. This was frustrating during what was, already, a stressful time. Luckily, I my older brother was my support system  driving me to college visits, proofreading my essays, and more than willing to lend a ear/offer advice when it came to actually picking which colleges to apply for.

So yes, struggles do exist. And I’ve even dealt with some of them firsthand. I was lucky to have the support I did in spite of the other discouragement I faced. Not everyone is so lucky. But that’s my point. We all have our own unique story. Not everyone’s struggles can fit into your labels and not everyone with a label experiences those struggles.

When I tell people I’m a first generation student–more often than not–they look taken aback. As if they’re trying to figure out how someone so rare could be so ordinary. Or rather, how someone expected to struggle was performing so *well (*I definitely do struggle–but no more than anyone else who’s vehemently chasing a 4.0).

But I get it: I’m first generation, I’m unique. But here’s the thing, I’m unique.. just like everyone else. Because when you think about it there is no norm, there is no other; it’s all in our heads, what we’ve been socialized to believe. I’m just another student, just another coffee thermos on the desk, just another name of the roster. This is not a bad thing. Because just like everyone else, I’m capable of academic excellence, capable of health and happiness, capable of making a positive impact. And I have every intention of rising to this occasion.


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